Drinking: A Portland Romance 

The Mercury Drinking Issue

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DATING IS DIFFICULT. Love is a cruel, cruel bitch. If you're old enough that the Mercury's Drinking Issue is of any interest, this should come as no surprise. Even when you find someone you get along with—even when things are going well—relationships are fraught with jealousy or insecurity or misunderstanding or loneliness or boredom.

Of course, we pursue them anyway.

Woody Allen closes Annie Hall with THE definitive joke on the matter: "This-this-this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, uh, my brother's crazy. He thinks he's a chicken.' And, uh, the doctor says, 'Well, why don't you turn him in?' And the guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.'"

And... scene. Point is, despite knowing better, we're going to keep dating, and chasing pussy (or whatever), and falling in love, and hurting those people we love.

Thankfully, we're not in it alone. To my knowledge, there's only one (legal) thing that really helps you approach that beautiful girl sitting alone at (or dancing on top of) the bar. There's only one thing that helps you get through that first stilted conversation and actually believe what you're saying is in any way meaningful (What kind of music do you like? What's your dad do? I see from your tattoos that you really like mixed martial arts). There's only one thing that pulls you out of the tedium of daily routines, that makes you look past the fact that the man sitting across from you is the same guy who stinks up the bathroom every morning at 8:30 am and has fallen asleep on the couch every night for the past week watching Deep Space Nine on Netflix; and there's only one thing that assuages your guilt when you're about to make the biggest mistake of your life and do irreparable damage to the person you care about most.

Drinking!

But where to do so? Fortunately for you, dear readers, the Mercury staff knows a thing or two about the trials and tribulations of romance, and a thing or two more about getting totally blotto. What follows is—if not a definitive guide—then at least a good road map to drinking establishments where one might—if he or she so desires—pick up a nice-looking lady or fella, take said lady or fella on a first date, celebrate with that lady or fella if things were to go well, and carry on an illicit affair if things start feeling a bit staid. Results may vary (from wildly successful to unthinkably orgasmic). You're welcome in advance. TONY PEREZ

 

PICK-UP BARS

 

DIXIE TAVERN

Dixie Tavern is made for hooking up. It has earned its reputation as a "meat market," and while the most morally stalwart way to pick someone up may not be to get them criminally intoxicated, I'm just saying it's easier. Here are the details of a recent visit:

10:30 pm: Wanted to get here early and watch as the eligible women start to trickle in.

10:32 pm: Holy shit not early enough. These two women on the dance floor look like they've been grinding on each other since this Tool song was on the radio. Between their lazy writhing, glassy eyes, and apparent penchant for mainstream metal, it's a toss-up whether they're tweakers or actual zombies.

10:33 pm: I can't watch this, I need whiskey to drink and then vodka to pour into my eyes.

10:34 pm: Wait, Tool? NOTE: "Rock 'n' Roll Tavern," actually means, "We specialize in music you don't want to dance to."

10:36 pm: Tool is over, replaced by LMFAO. I never thought I'd say this, but thank god for LMFAO.

10:46 pm: Finally got a drink. Had to wait for my bartender to stop dancing on the bar.

10:55 pm: I just caught a reasonably sober-looking girl's eye on the dance floor. The circle of girls she was in was suspiciously permeable.

11:05 pm: Another drink for me, and one for her.

11:20 pm: More drinks. God, they're actually pretty cheap and you know what? Who doesn't look hot with a fluorescent shot glass?

11:45pm: She's been holding my hand (actually painfully squeezing) and whispering (screaming) sweet nothings (gibberish) in my ear all night. Obviously this is love. I should get her number and her name.

11:50pm: Done. Her name is Kayla. It feels so real this time. I don't want to leave her for even a second, but I HAVE to go to the bathroom because oh my god, NOTE: Do not get the deep-fried mac 'n' cheese, it's like chugging motor oil. THOMAS ROSS

Dixie Tavern, 32 NW 3rd, dixiepdx.com

 

THE SPARE ROOM

Move over, whippersnapper! Old folks need love, too! That's why the best place in Portland—and perhaps the world—to seduce a more mature gentleman or lady caller is Northeast's Spare Room. Hop into this spacious and festive bar/dancehall on any weekend night, and it's sure to be bumping with hotsy-totsy grampies, grandmas, and middle-agers who actually know how to dance—not that awkward flailing about that you do. I'm talking samba, cha-cha, two-step... the real deal. But the dancers here are never jerks when it comes to their talents. The sheer joy and energy that leaps off the dance floor is infectious, so don't be surprised (or freaked out) if an older lady or gentlemen extends their hand and asks you to join them for a trot around the floor. They just want to dance, and most likely? Nothing else will be required of you.

But even if your feet flatly refuse to touch the giant dance floor, there's so much the Spare Room can do to make you fall in love: the pink and blue chaser lights circling the bar; the generously large vinyl booths and romantic secretive nooks; low seductive lighting; pool and pinball way in the back, video poker and a fully stocked bar up front; and of course the occasional and always welcome appearance of lounge act Larry & Teri. Proudly serving a $3 Jim Beam and Coke as their house special, and a $4 breakfast in their dining room/hangover nursery, the Spare Room simultaneously oozes working-class ethos, exuberant fun, and an unyielding romance with the past—which is getting harder and harder to find these days. And who knows? You may even find love. The stuff's ageless, from what I hear. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY

The Spare Room, 4830 NE 42nd, spareroompdx.com

 

HOLOCENE

The last time I was at Gaycation at Holocene, I wound up on stage wearing someone else's shirt, squeezed into a dance pile between two astoundingly attractive, flamboyant dudes I'd never met before. Holocene can be that kind of place. If your thing is making lingering eye contact with someone in a bright tie and skinny jeans or sipping cheap, fancy drinks while conversing on a low leather sofa, well, Holocene can be that kind of place, too. Holocene changes its character depending on the night, but maintains excellent consistency in the following areas: dance-loving beautiful people, creative events, original music, a proximity to Sassy's, and dim lighting perfect for flirting with strangers of all genders.

The sparsely decorated warehouse space opened eight years ago (so it's like 35 in Portland years) and it's now a staple for the art-kid music scene. Buy someone a drink during Snap!, their monthly '90s dance party, talk hot compost tips with an urban farmer during the monthly InFarmation mixer, or just cut to the chase and rub your butt all over a new friend during Booty Basement dance night. Alternately, every Friday Holocene dishes up free snacks (tasty free snacks, trust me) and mellow DJs during their Aperitivo Happy Hour, so grab a table and keep an eye out for a date. If things don't work out, hey, like I said, Sassy's is right next door. SARAH MIRK

Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison, holocene.org

FIRST DATES

GROUND KONTROL

Ms. Pac-Man forages for ghosts as plummeting asteroids are destroyed in a button-mashing frenzy. A noble soldier rescues the last human family from waves of Robotrons (or, as I like to think of them, Robot Rons), while Marge Simpson defends her brood with a vacuum cleaner. Where else but among Ground Kontrol's joysticks and trackballs can one so fully assess a prospective mate's coordination, instincts, and digital dexterity?

As plenty of Portlanders have already figured out, the innocent fun of old-school arcade games is a nostalgic, low-key way to charm the pants off a date (literally, if you're lucky). A night pumping quarters into the games of your childhood is casual, low pressure, and full of opportunities for both cooperation and friendly competition. Plus, the thrill of feeling your arm brush against his as you play X-Men side by side? It's like being 12 years old all over again—and given the state of suspended adolescence so many people move to Portland to enjoy, I know some of you are into that.

Ground Kontrol has served beer and wine for a while now, but liquor was added to the menu in December, elevating the joint from fun date idea to fun date idea that might actually get you laid later. Plus, you can learn a lot about a person from their arcade etiquette. If he spends 45 minutes detailing his pinball technique, or she flips her shit when you beat her at Street Fighter III? You might wanna reconsider leveling them up to date number two. ALISON HALLETT

Ground Kontrol, 511 NW Couch, groundkontrol.com

 

THE SANDY HUT

You can do all you want to impress your date, but sooner or later she's gonna find out you're just like everyone else—in other words, you're a slob. You watch sports. You listen to loud music of questionable quality. You hate dressing up. You gamble, given the option. You drink a lot, and, despite all your efforts to the contrary, you're not made of money.

So why postpone the inevitable? Why fumble your way through a first date at some classy joint with a dress code and bottle service, only to have her discover you're a schlub two dates later? No, let her see the Real You. And nowhere does that Real You shine more than at the Sandy Hut, one of the comfiest dives around. It's that unpretentious hidey-hole in a purple wedge-shaped building along NE Sandy, boasting a full menu with breakfast, burgers, fish and chips—and enough alcohol to blind an ox.

That sweet, delicious alcohol is the reason your first date is going to be foolproof, because if it starts to go off the rails, the surefire way to salvage it is with lots and lots of booze. Not to mention that it's extremely friendly to your wallet. They even have Jell-O shots, for Chrissakes. If you don't have a great date after Jell-O shots, perhaps your ex was right and there IS something wrong with you after all.

The Sandy Hut caters to all types, so you and your date are gonna fit right in. The lighting is favorable. The booths are comfy. The service is beyond friendly, and the drinks are as stiff as an ironing board. If the conversation drags, there's a pool table, shuffleboard, video poker, Golden Tee, and they show every Blazers game. And years from now, when you tell your lousy grandkids that you spent your first date at the "Handy Slut," you can be sure that they'll give you some goddamn respect. NED LANNAMANN

The Sandy Hut, 1430 NE Sandy, sandyhut.com 

INTERURBAN

In dating—as in finance and horse racing—a common strategy is to hedge one's bet. Not sure how much you like a certain lady or gentleman, or if you're even on a date? You're not going to want a long prix fixe dinner that has you stuck alone at a table for several hours if your man turns out to be a mouthbreather or a Republican. If you pick some romantic, over-the-top, champagne-and-oysters joint, things could get a little awkward when your girl shows up with her fiancé, excited to introduce him to her "new friend."

So the key to a certain kind of first date is to choose somewhere that could go either way. Interurban, the new tavern on North Mississippi, has you covered. If things don't work out, it's just loud enough—and just crowded enough—to provide ample distraction when the guy across the table starts staring into your eyes and telling you how much you look like his gorgeous teenage cousin.

If things do go well, you can rest easy knowing the menu comes courtesy of John Gorham, whose Tasty n Sons and Toro Bravo will make for stellar second and third dates. They have a great selection of decidedly unfussy small plates. You can opt for cheese and charcuterie, or test your date's limits with their wonderful bacon-wrapped shrimp. (Pro tip: If the date's going really well, suggest the hand-dipped corndog [Full disclosure: as of press time, this tactic remains untested].)           

The cocktails are stellar. My favorite so far is the Suffering Bastard—gin, cognac, simple syrup, and lime juice shaken and strained over ice, then given a ginger beer float. You can even buy a couple cocktails by the bottle—negronis or manhattans—for $30. If that's not a recipe for a good icebreaker, I can't really help you. TONY PEREZ

Interurban, 4057 N Mississippi, Interurbanpdx.com

SPECIAL OCCASIONS

THE SAPPHIRE HOTEL

Surprisingly, it's much more romantic to drink in a place where whores used to hang out than where they currently tip one back. The owners of SE Hawthorne's Sapphire Hotel know that candles, Asian décor, pillows, and a shiny bottle-filled bar in the lobby of a turn-of-the-century cathouse set a sexy scene. The story goes, in the 1900s the building was a seedy hotel, home to sailors, bohemian musicians, and working gals (hey, maybe the Unicorn Inn will be a chic watering hole in 3006), who would gather in the front room to cavort and canoodle over food before slipping upstairs. It's a romantic backstory, and with the Sapphire's well-crafted drinks it's easy to forget it probably wasn't all that sepia-toned back then.

There are pages of delish-sounding cocktails and fizzeries, but of the samplings, my favorite was the Jack London, a warm seasonal libation with gin, milk, orgeat, and bitters. It was creamsicle orange and very flavorful—perfect for a cold windy day, but probably Kryptonite for the lactaphobe. My hubby's Hendricks gin martini was delightfully boozy, with bright green lily-pad olives, which looked fetching in the candlelight (I guess he looked all right too). And because I'm a ho for crème brûlée, I was all over the Sapphire's caramelized custard, while the man selected the seasonal dessert, a pumpkin cheesecake in a great graham cracker crust and topped with a superfluous sour cream topping. If you're going for dinner, try the near-perfect risotto cakes with scallops, covered in a rich mushroom sauce—they're well portioned and yummy as get-out.

So if a special night out with your paramour currently constitutes looking for where the prostitutes and seamen drink, might I suggest going retro in the seductive parlor of the Sapphire—no escort required—but it is nice to gaze through the flattering lighting into the eyes of your special shmoopy-poopy bear. Or just drink great cocktails by yourself 'til the abyss swallows your loneliness. Your call. COURTNEY FERGUSON

The Sapphire Hotel, 5008 SE Hawthorne, thesapphirehotel.com

 

ACROPOLIS STEAKHOUSE

Nothing says "I love you" like a filet wrapped in bacon. Well, nothing except a lap dance, 54 beers on tap, and a salad bar equipped with an ample sneezeguard. At the Acropolis, you get all these things and more. It's a strip club with phenomenally cheap meat (the bacon-wrapped filet mignons start at $3.50—no joking!) and naked ladyparts as far as the eye can see (the lap dances cost a bit more than the steaks).

It doesn't matter if you're a guy or a gal, straight or otherwise—I guarantee you and your special someone will have yourselves a royally fine time at the Acropolis. It's four bucks to get in, but the rest of your scratch can go straight to the dancers, who run the gamut from natural to enhanced to tattooed up the wazoo (perhaps literally) and who are going to make damn sure you have a good time, as long as you provide them with the appropriate attention, manners, and dollar bills.

And the steaks! It's easy to fulfill your carnivorous urges with a $5.50 steak and fries, or you can go even bigger (you'll probably die of a heart attack before you can put away more than $10 worth of Acropolis grub). It serves as ample padding for the booze you'll want to put away, whether in cocktail form or via their staggering tap list, which has just about every macro and most of the mainstream micros you can think of. Seriously: cheap meat, lots of beer, and plenty of strippers. It's like this place is a temple. NED LANNAMANN

Acropolis Steakhouse, 8325 SE McLoughlin

THE DRIFTWOOD ROOM

We can't all carry on so glamorous a relationship as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (or such a turbulent one), but, in a pinch, we can drink them. The former shows up on the Hotel deLuxe's Driftwood Room's drink menu as a champagne cocktail with crème de violette, the latter a stiff pour of Jim Beam bourbon with Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth, fresh lemon, and an absinthe rinse.

I was, understandably, skeptical about an old Hollywood-themed hotel in downtown Portland—a reproduction of already manufactured glamour reads like the equivalent of a child's princess costume—but after sharing a couple Clint Eastwoods, a Sidney Poitier, and a Vesper Martini with a pretty girl, all those Billy Wilder meet-cutes felt fairly plausible.

The Driftwood Room is a dark little bar where Montgomery Clift would feel reasonably comfortable throwing up on Clark Gable's shoes. If it feels hokey, you can at least take comfort in the knowledge that their great happy hour ($6 cocktails and an expansive $3-8 food menu) goes from 2-6:30 pm and starts again at 9:30 pm, and that the money you have leftover from renting that room up on the George Cukor floor will get you a great order of clams and mussels.

But even if you can't look forward to stumbling into the elevator with your beloved, or waking up to room service and a quick hair of the dog, the Driftwood Room is a great option for after-dinner drinks on some special night out. And who knows, maybe your lady will spring for the key. TONY PEREZ

The Driftwood Room, 729 SW 15th, graciesdining.com

 

ILLICIT AFFAIRS

 

THE LOVECRAFT

The Lovecraft might lack the "let's take this upstairs" convenience of a hotel bar, but if you're carrying on an extracurricular affair you could do worse than this goth-friendly (oxymoron?) hideout. Very much an homage to the horror genre—as exemplified by H.P. Lovecraft—this dark den of a bar gains a hint of shabby class from its wood floors and intimate booths, while the pentagram painted on the ceiling and the live scorpion housed on the bar provide an element of danger that'll only amplify the frisson of wrongness that makes cheating so hot in the first place. (You might, though, want to discreetly enquire as to how your date feels about tentacles before introducing them to the bar's giant, creepy-crawly mural—that could go in the turn-ons or turn-offs category, depending.)

The bar has staked out a quiet niche on SE Grand, attracting a distinctly black-clad clientele whose sex lives are probably a lot weirder and more interesting than yours, and the low-key signage lessens the odds that your wronged spouse will wander in inopportunely. House cocktails are horror themed; and if for some reason you don't need to be drunk in order to drop your moral qualms, a list of mocktails—including a Hot Buffy and Pina Cthulhu—give you something to sip on while you carry on gleefully wrecking homes. But stay away from the Friday night tarot readings—you don't really want to know how this story ends, do you? ALISON HALLETT

The Lovecraft, 421 SE Grand, thelovecraftbar.com

WINDOWS RESTAURANT & LOUNGE

You pick up your key card from the woman at the desk. You thank her—sheepishly maybe—but she's never seen you before, and may never again. A few Blazers-game lingerers file out of the elevator, and you light up the button for the sixth floor, fiddling with the wedding ring in your pocket; you can't help but notice how closely it would match the gold walls. The doors open at three and a laughing couple quiets down; they're both wearing convention center nametags, dressed all sales-rep chic. "Going up?" you ask. The man nods, wraps his arm around his date's hip.

You glide over the acid-trip carpeting, nod to the Red Lion cleaning lady, and enter Windows. It feels a bit like the bar at the Overlook Hotel, like a few decades ago 100 happy revelers would be drinking and carrying on, but tonight it's just you, the corporate couple from Omaha and Bakersfield (respectively), and some sad-sack ghosts.

And her, of course. She sits at the end of the bar, fiddling with the plastic straw in her highball and enjoying the view, a seedier Portland City Grill. You pull up the stool next to her and she smiles some conspiratorial smile.

The bartender drops a menu in front of you. "Hungry?" you ask, more from a need to fill the silence than a desire for the pasta special or the mozzarella sticks.

She shakes her head, and signals the Hawaiian-shirted barkeep to refill her glass. The wine list isn't particularly impressive, and there are only a couple beers on tap. But you remember why you're here, and order a double bourbon, neat. Candy is dandy, and all that. Your cell phone vibrates, buzzing against the ring in your pocket. You hit ignore. You sign your credit card slip, and jot down #514 on your date's cocktail napkin, where you've placed the key card. She drains her cocktail, clutches key and napkin, and strolls out of the bar. You signal the bartender for one more, slide over a 20, and say, "No change." You stare out at the lights of the city, that house in the West Hills where someone's reading in bed, wondering whether or not to wait up for you. TONY PEREZ

Windows Restaurant & Lounge, 1021 NE Grand

DIXIE TAVERN

11:50 pm: I can't believe how good things are going with Kayla. And she's so hot. Oh damn, does that girl on the dance floor have a lip ring? Girls with lip rings are my jam.

11:51 pm: This place oozes romance. Guy in line to piss says he's just looking for a "slam piece."

11:51 pm: I should text that girl, "KAYLA YOU ARE NOT ANOTHER SLAM PIECE."

11:52 pm: I did it. I hope her name is Kayla. Might be Brandy.

11:55 pm: This Pink song is literally the worst song ever. The "why so serious" one.

11:57 pm: More LMFAO. This time the DJ is on the bar yelling the lyrics into the mic. I think he's wearing a short-sleeved blazer.

12:03 am: You know that moment when a song comes on and you're like, "This is my jam!" and you race to the dance floor? Everyone in this club seems to have just done that, with a Nickelback song. Straightest bar ever.

12:05 am: The dirtiest dancing I have seen in all of my life (including BET Uncut amateur hiphop videos and old MTV spring break dance contests) is happening right now, while Nickelback is playing.

12:05 am: Actually that girl with the lip ring is kind of working the Nickelback thing.

12:12 am: Brandy or Kayla or whatever is dancing on the bar with an older woman who looks just like her. Thank God for this upstairs area, where me and the Nickelback girl can be alone and make out.

12:12 am: NOTE: You can learn to dance to Nickelback. Just takes the right partner.

12:13 am: Oh man, Kayla looks super hot on the bar. I better text her: UR SO HOT.

12:15 am: The Nickelback girl has really lost her allure without her eponymous background music and Kayla just got off the bar. Better get down there and swoop her away.

12:20 am: As soon as we stepped outside, Kayla ran into Dirty and I never saw her again. I hope she found what she was looking for. THOMAS ROSS

Dixie Tavern, 32 NW 3rd, dixiepdx.com

Hair and makeup by Patty Harding. Styling by Marissa Sullivan. Wardrobe provided by Rad Summer and Funkytown. A special thanks to Robin Williams at the Rusty Spurr.

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